The example of high While much of Florence was rebuilt during the Renaissance, the eastern part of the city retains a distinctly medieval feel. With its maze of tiny alleys, it is an area that would still be familiar to Dante (1261 to 1321), whose birthplace allegedly lay somewhere among these lanes.
While much of Florence was rebuilt during the Renaissance, the eastern part of the city retains a distinctly medieval feel. With its maze of tiny alleys, it is an area that would still be familiar to Dante (1261 to 1321), whose birthplace allegedly lay somewhere among these lanes.
The richly-decorated cathedral, known alternately as the ‘Duomo of Florence’ and the ‘The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore,’ along with its orange tiled dome, has become Florence’s most famous symbol. Typical of the Florentine determination to lead in all things, the Duomo is Europe’s fourth-largest church and the tallest building in Florence.
The Uffizi, Italy’s greatest art gallery, was built between 1560 to 1580 CE to house offices for Duke Cosimo I. The architect Vasari used iron as reinforcement, enabling his successor, Buontalenti, to create an almost continuous wall of glass on the upper floor. This was used as a gallery for Francesco I to display the Medici art treasures. The collection was divided up in the 19th century. Ancient objects went to the archeological museum and sculpture to the Bargello, leaving the Uffizi with a matchless collection of paintings.
Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio have been at the center of Florence’s political and social life for centuries. The great bell once used to summon citizens to ‘parlamento’ (public meetings) remains here, and the square has long been a popular promenade for both visitors and Florentines. The piazza’s statues (some are copies) commemorate the city’s major historical events. Its most famous episode is celebrated by a simple pavement plaque near the loggia: the execution of the religious leader Girolamo Savonarola who was burnt at the stake.
The church of Santa Maria Novella was built by the Dominicans between 1279 and 1357. The lower Romanesque part of its facade was incorporated into one based on Classical proportions by the pioneering Renaissance architect Leon Batista Alberti in 1456 to 1470 CE. The Gothic interior contains superb frescoes, including Mosaccio’s powerful Trinity. The famous Green Cloister, frescoed with perspective scenes by Paolo Uccello, and the dramatically decorated Spanish Chapel, now form a museum.
The Palazzo Pitti was originally built for the banker Luca Pitti. The huge scale of the building, begun in 1457 and attributed to Brunelleschi, illustrated Pitti’s determination to outrival the Medici family through its display of wealth and power. Ironically, the Medici later purchased the Palazzo when building costs bankrupted Pitti’s heirs. In 1550, it became the main residence of the Medici and all the subsequent rulers of the city. Today, the richly decorated rooms exhibit countless treasures from the Medici collections.
San Lorenzo was the parish church of the Medici family. In 1419, Brunelleschi was commissioned to rebuild it in the Renaissance style. Almost a century later, Michelangelo submitted some plans for the facade and began work on the Medici tombs in the Sagrestia nuova. He also designed a library, the Biblioteca Mediceo-Laurenziana, to house the family’s collection of manuscripts. The lavish family mausoleum, the Cappella dei Principi, was started in 1604.
In the middle of the San Lorenzo street market is the bustling Mercato Centrale, Florence’s busiest food market. It is housed in a vast two-story building of cast-iron and glass, built in 1874 by Giuseppe Mengoni. The ground floor stalls sell meat, poultry, fish, salami, ham, cheeses, and a myriad of olive oils. There are also Tuscan foods such as porchetta (roast suckling pig), lampredotto (pig’s intestines), and trippa (tripe). Fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers are sold on the top floor. Look for wild mushrooms and truffles in the autumn and broad beans, peas, and baby artichokes in early spring.
Palazzo Antinori was built in 1461 to 1466 and is one of the finest small Renaissance palazzi in Florence. It was acquired by the Antinori in 1506 and has remained with the family every since. The dynasty owns many estates all over Tuscany and Umbria, producing a range of wines, oils, and liqueurs. The Cantinetta Antinori, a wine bar off the main courtyard, offers samples of these gastronomical delights.
Of all the great Florentine views, such as the Duomo and Campanile, none offers such a magnificent panorama of the city as Piazzale Michelangelo. Designed in the 1860s by Giuseppe Poggi and dotted with copies of Michelangelo’s statues, its balconies attract many visitors and the inevitable masses of souvenir peddlers. However, this square remains an evoticative spot, especially when the sun sets over the Arno river and distant Tuscan hills.